Project Home List of Names Rollins Archives Olin Library Rollins College

Courtesy of Mount Moriah Baptist Church

Charles Ambrose

Church Founder

Charles Ambrose was an African American who lived in west Winter Park.  He married a woman named Missouri, and had one son, Chester and one daughter named Helen.[1]  He also had two granddaughters, Thelma and Lucille. In 1886, Ambrose helped found Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, the first Black Baptist church organized in Winter Park, which he ran out of his home.[2] Establishing such a church in the 18th and 19th century was difficult since many states southern states banned blacks from assembling.  Many whites could not fathom Blacks associated with Christianity. As a result, African Americans met in secret by night to learn the teachings of the Bible, preach and sing.  Their congregations became known as the “invisible church.”[3]  The Baptists were the first to license Black men to preach in the 1770s and 1780s.This opportunity led to the development of independent black churches in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In 1887 Reverend Charles Johnson Smith became the first to lead Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church.[4]  He served until 1911.  In 1888, the trustees of the church, which included Charles Ambrose, purchased two lots on the corners of Lyman and Pennsylvania Avenues from the Winter Park Company for fifty-five dollars.[5]  The church was built on this property.  The congregation grew rapidly between 1886 and 1935.  So much so that the Ambrose home could not accommodate the audience.  As a result the church met on alternate Sundays at the Winter Park Town Hall until they had a sanctuary of their own.[6]  In 1935 William A. Coursen provided the $8,500 necessary to build the temple on Pennsylvania Avenue.[7]

- Kerem K. Rivera

[1] Rebekah McCloud, “Across the Tracks: A Collective History of Black Churches of Winter Park.” (Rhea marsh and Dorothy Lockhart Smith Winter Park History Research Grant Report), 23-28.

[2] Ibid.

[3]  "Jefferson county, Florida Freedmen's Contract, 1867," Florida Memory State Library & Archives of Florida, (Accessed July 8, 2009)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

Project Home List of Names Rollins Archives Olin Library Rollins College